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volume 7
july 2004

Listening to Radio Caroline


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (23)
by Hans Knot
  When we started our series to commemorate the forty years of Radio Caroline, we asked the readers to write down their memories of the station in just a few lines. There proved to be a lot of people, cultivating little gems of the station's history. On this page Hans Knot presents a few exemplary ones.
1 Right: The MV Ross Revenge in drydock (Photo © Freewave Archive)

Now as in the past, for every commercial radio station it proves very important to have an audience, as advertisers are always looking at the station's RAJAR-figures. Offshore radio stations were no exception to this rule. In the 1960's, to attract advertisers, Radio Caroline and Radio London always reported rather high listening figures. At one time both stations were even claiming more than 8.8 million listeners each. Nowadays, Radio Caroline has to resort to other sources. Luckily, up till the end of last year, the station succeeded in selling a lot of airtime to American religious organisations. Yet another source of income is gifts from listeners, making the listeners still very important for the Lady's survival. When we started our series to commemorate the forty years of Radio Caroline, we asked the readers to write down their memories of the station in just a few lines. There proved to be a lot of people, cultivating little gems of the station's history. On this page we have collected a few exemplary ones.

2 Left: Caroline sticker

Chris Faulkner, for instance, replied by going back to his youth: "My memory of the "Old Girl" comes from the time she moved to the Isle of Mann in 1964. My parents' house in Holyhead, North Wales, looked out over Newry Beach and we often saw various ships stopping off just behind the breakwater to pick up the pilot for their onward journey — Blue Funnel line vessels in particular. Just as I was about to go to school one morning, my mother called me and my brother into my parents' bedroom to watch the M.V. Caroline coming in to pick up her pilot. We were so amazed at the size of her mast, never having seen anything like it before. She stayed behind the breakwater for about fifteen to twenty minutes and we watched the ship before it headed north toward, we assumed, the I.O.M. This memory has never left me and I can remember it made us all late for school, though as my mother was also my teacher at primary school, it didn't matter so much for me!"

3 Right: Robin Ross, Dixie Peach and Tony Garreth in the mess-room of the Ross Revenge 1983 (Photo © Tom de Munck)

From Shaun in California we received a response on our chapters on the internet: "Chapter 10 of the series, treating the return of Radio Caroline in 1983, brought back some very happy memories. I vividly remember the days leading up to the first broadcast from the Ross, the test tones, the — usually incorrect! — media reports and the shock of hearing just how powerful the signal was. I'd never heard anything like it before. Nice to think about Dixie Peach, too. Have you ever met the guy? I could never figure out if he was "high on life" or high on some of that famous Falls Head Herb — usually found in the Overdrive studio, so John Bennett tells me. Wonder where he is now? The late 1970's model of Radio Caroline is still my favourite, despite the fact they were on and off the air more than a partisan station in WW2."

4 Left: Promosticker Caroline Summer Tour 1978

Andries Peterson from the Netherlands also has his memories of the station: "I had heard from Radio Caroline before the station started its transmissions off the Dutch coast, late 1973. But next to hearing other people talk about the subject, I never really had listened to the Sound of the Nation. I must say the people on the station got my sympathy very quickly. I just hated the intrusive way deejays tried to influence my taste on the other radio stations. I never had the idea to buy any of the singles they promoted, as these got so much airplay and therefore entered the charts. No, I did buy records which were also nice and were brought to my ears by listening to Radio Caroline — quite other music than the other stations were offering. Caroline really got more and more attention after August 31, 1974, when the other offshore stations off the Dutch coast had to stop their transmissions, while Radio Caroline survived to please its listeners. I always tried to get the best quality out of my car radio, while listening to the station and I always felt fed up when Caroline was off the air again, forcing me to tune in to the sound of Hilversum 3 — the then so-called public pop station in the Netherlands. This was all in the 1970's. To complete my story, I have to tell you that all this motivated me highly to assist the Dutch Caroline organization. That's the group of Sietse Brouwer in Harlingen. In the late 1990's and later on I helped them with the promotion team when they were busy trying to convince as much as possible cable networks to put their signal on their networks."

5 Right: Dennis King and Brian Anderson (2001)

The next Caroline memory arrived from Groningen in the North East of the Netherlands. From there Bert Alting wrote: "in the mid-1970's I was living partly on a little room on the loft of a house and in the early evenings I tried never to miss the close-down of Radio Mi Amigo — Caroline's sister station in those days — and the daily opening of Radio Caroline. Reception at that hour was far more difficult than during daytime and so I did my utmost to get the best reception possible. I did not succeed in getting things right every day, but I certainly felt good every time I heard the famous Caroline bell going "Ding, Ding," followed by the opening tune from those days: "On My Way Back Home" from The New Riders on the Purple Sage. Every time I succeeded in getting a good signal during the evening, I knew I again would have a very good evening. Radio Caroline was a real phenomen. She was so fine, I made her mine, her name is Caroline!"

6 Left: Bad weather and get the heather on (1987) (Photo © Freewave Archive)

And then a small packet of Caroline's past was brought back by Mary Payne, director of the Radio London company which does a lot of work, including maintaining an excellent site on the history of Radio London — together with her husband Chris. Mary wrote us: "I wondered if your series should be including the titles of any of the records played on the Test Transmission tapes? I can clearly recall "Pushover" by Etta James and "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" by Betty Everett being two of the tracks. I recall that Easter weekend in 1964 when Radio Caroline arrived very well. I was extremely excited about the new station and borrowed a big transistor radio from my grandmother, so that I could take the music everywhere I went. On Easter Saturday, my parents wanted to go and view a show house on a new estate. This was not because they wanted to buy a house, but because the ones on the new estate had been constructed with an innovative type of central heating, which blew hot air through ducts under the floor. They were keen to see what this heating was like, with a view to installing it in their own home. I remember wandering around that show house with my tranny on my arm. The whole of the school Easter holiday, my friend Mozz and I took the tranny with us everywhere. The only problem I had with it was the weight of it hanging on my arm — my right arm is probably longer than my left one now — and being able to find sufficient pocket money to buy the batteries! I don't think Grandma saw her radio again till I managed to get a small tranny of my own to replace it."

7 Right: Peter Moore and Sietse Brouwer in Leeuwarden 1999 (Photo © Hans Knot)

And, here's one coming from Johnnie Lang, a fervent Caroline supporter: "I feel that I have to put forward a little in the way of defence for the actual Radio Caroline. I am enjoying their programmes immensely at present but there always seems to be a lot of criticism about the station no matter what they do. "Why do we have to pay, why aren't they out at sea, the music's no good," and so on. I wonder if any of the people who criticise have even tried setting up or running a radio station on land, let alone from twelve miles out to sea with the law heavily biased against them. Now I don't know Peter Moore personally, so cannot comment on the type of person he is, but I do know that he has done a lot for Caroline over the past few years and I'm sure without him it would still be nowhere to be heard. The fact is that the station is on air for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week — something I would have not thought possible not that long ago. People have to move away from the idea that Caroline can only broadcast from a boat — I thought that back in the early days we were fighting for free radio to be legalised — "free" as in freedom of speech — and on land! There are very few restrictions placed on Caroline's licence, allowing them to broadcast virtually what they like within the law. To keep it this way they have had to steer clear of big investors — and conventional means of broadcasting — which, although a nice idea, has its drawbacks. One is lack of finance, so presenters work for nothing — we, the Caroline supporters, can ask for no greater dedication — and I am quite happy to do my bit and help keep the dream alive with my monthly subscription. Gaining advertising is very much a Catch-22 situation. First you need good audience figures and to do that a greater prominence needs to be sought, hence the push for a Sky EPG listing. Second, it also requires a good sales team and, of course, sales people don't work for nothing. Gradually Caroline is fighting its way back and I'm sure that once advertising is coming in, there will be no need for listener donations. No one said it would be an easy or fast journey, but I, for one, can only see better things for the future."

8 Left: Promo Caroline 60's Revival Show (Photo © Freewave Archive)

Also Philip Coleman was selected to be a part of this chapter: "I do not think my Caroline memories deserve to be mentioned in the Caroline's special, but there are two which may be of interest to you: First, on September 30, 1972, I was a student with a part-time job. I took my radio to work and annoyed everyone by listening to RNI in Dutch on short-wave. I thought something might happen and sure enough at 1.00 p.m. British time on came RNI Second, by about 3.45 p.m. the signal was really very poor so I tuned into Manx radio and there was Daffy Don Allen with his country and Western Jamboree. He announced towards the end of the programme that it was his last show because he had accepted an offer to become programme controller of RNI! At that time I thought RNI 2 was here to stay. The highlight however was picking up test transmissions from Radio Caroline — I had missed the tests of the previous day. How different it seemed six weeks later when the Mi Amigo had no mast and RNI no English service."

  "Between December 26 and December 30, 1973, a friend and I went to Holland for a few days. We almost got on board the MEBO II with the assistance of Brian McKenzie but although we went out on the Trip tender the weather was too bad to allow boarding. The following day we went to Caroline House in The Hague. We simply knocked on the door which was answered by a young Canadian who called himself Rob Day. By and large the old hands ignored us but Rob was very enthusiastic and took us to the top floor where the new studios of Radio Mi Amigo were being given a dry run. Andy Archer then came in to say he and Johnny Jason wanted to record the opening programme for Radio Seagull and asked Rob, my friend and I to buy a bottle of sparking white wine for ten Dutch guilders which could be used to sound like champagne when "opened" on air. We duly bought the wine but do not know if it was the one heard when Radio Seagull opened on January 7, 1974. Knowing the lads at Caroline it was probably drunk and a replacement bought. We arranged to meet the Caroline tender to go out to the ship but no one turned up. A well-nourished captain said they often failed to appear for a tender but he always got paid! Rob Day never made it to the airwaves — to the best of my knowledge — and that was that. A little about myself. I live in Wigan, just west of Manchester. I remember Caroline North with great affection. I am taking a career break from my profession as a Sollicitor and in 2001 was fortunate to be allowed to run the news service from the Mi Amigo RSL from the LV18 where I met Bart Serlier among many others."
9 Right: Ronan O'Rahilly

Earlier this year I met Bob Le-Roi and of course we talked a lot about Radio Caroline. To my surprise Bob, in passing, mentioned the plans to get an ILR-station on the MV Ross Revenge, after the ship had stranded on the Goodwin Sands. He promised to write some lines about it for this series and here they are: "In the early 1990's, soon after the Ross Revenge was dragged of the Goodwin Sands and taken into Dover, a plan was conceived by the team of the then Invicta Radio Group, comprising the fairly nautical crew of Roger Day, Andy Archer, Johnny Lewis, Nigel Harris, Bob Matthews and Bob Le-Roi. The ship would be moved to a permanent mooring in Ramsgate Harbour with the Gold service, at the time called Coast, operating like the FM-services from Whitstable studios being moved onto the ship to become Radio Caroline. Much improvement to the lay-out of the ship was planned but basically the studios would have remained. Links would have been to the 603 and the 1242 kHz transmitters as before, but programmes would have taken on a slightly different slant. The project not unexpectedly hit the quay side, but it would have been interesting should the plan have come to fruition."

10 Left: Raffles

Finally, here is Mark Reynolds writing in from Buckinghamshire and thanking all the people who tried to keep the memory of Radio Caroline alive over the years: "I did learn about offshore radio in late 1966 and followed the stations from that point on. After the MOB became law on August 15, 1967, we had to wait a long time for new offshore radio stations to arrive — although we did have our Caroline stations up till March 1968. From 1970 on a lot happened in offshore radio, which has often been forgotten by people who write about this subject in books. In the 1970's and 19870's is was great to follow all the things which were happening as there were two magazines in which all the facts and figures were published from day to day. Therefore I would like to thank the Monitor Magazine from Benfleet from the later Buster Pearson and the Pirate Radio News team from the Netherlands. Since a couple of years we can read a lot on the subject Offshore Radio on several internet sites. Next to that we can listen in to Radio Caroline on internet and satellite. The station hasn't the glamour anymore it had in its High Seas Days, but I'm still enjoying all the memories. As those people, who did promote the stations with their magazines and internet sites, wouldn't have been there, we certainly wouldn't be celebrating Caroline's Fortieth Birthday this year."

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  2004 © Soundscapes